Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mill Bicentennial: the Aftermath

by Joe Miller

Warm weather, college students in shorts strolling to class, driving my car, not once wondering where the hell I am or whether I'm at the right tube stop. I guess that I'm officially back in North Carolina again. I'm also about 10 days behind on everything, having done exactly zero work while off in London. Okay, I did attend a Mill conference, but it's really hard to call something work when you have that much fun doing it. Anyway, I'm 10 days behind and have just a bit over three weeks of classes remaining this semester. Not really quite sure how to reconcile those. At least all of my students are pretty much accustomed to my being late getting papers back to them.

I do want to offer a public shout-out to three of our philosophy majors who helped out while I was gone. Jimi, thanks for proctoring the intro exam. Nice catch on the Sex Pistols lyrics, too. I'm not sure that many of my students caught the reference. Actually, more than half of them missed that question entirely, despite the fact that, of the four answers to the question (what's the best argument for anarchy that we've discussed this semester), one quoted song lyrics, one quoted a movie, and one said that we haven't discussed anarchy all semester. There was but answer that offered an argument at all, and still half of them missed it. Sigh. At any rate, thanks for the help; you'll be all set for your first semester as a TA in grad school this fall. And Adam and Steven, thanks for talking to my logic students about fallacies. I'm told that you both did a great job; at the very least, no one had any questions about either set of fallacies that the two of you covered.

I'll get back to some real content here soon. I'd better at any rate before Rick's puns drive away what readership I've managed to attract. In the meantime, as promised, here is the man himself:

For those of you who don't know the backstory, yes, this is actually Jeremy Bentham. Or his body anyway. His head is locked in a safe after students at King's College stole it and held it for ransom.

Bentham himself was only marginally connected to the founding of UCL, though he was very much a supporter of the project. UCL (at the time it was called the University of London), was the England's first secular university. At the time of its founding, England had but two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, both of which excluded students based on their religious beliefs. UCL was founded on the principle that all qualified students ought to be admitted regardless of religious beliefs. Thus was born "the Godless institution on Gower Street." J.S. Mill attended some lectures at UCL (though Mill did not formally attend--indeed, Mill had no formal schooling at all). Most notably, the young Mill attended the lectures of John Austin, UCL's first professor of jurisprudence.

At any rate, despite Bentham's relatively modest involvement with UCL, his name shows up all over the place. The faculty of law resides in Bentham House, and one of the main rooms in the South Cloisters (part of the main UCL building) is the Jeremy Bentham room. Bentham House is also home to the Bentham Project, which is working on producing Bentham's collected works, a project that it hopes to complete within the next 20 years or so. (Bentham's writings were eclectic and almost never finished. J.S. Mill served as Bentham's secretary briefly but totally gave up on the task of turning Bentham's notes and papers into anything more than a hopeless mess.) Oh, and there is also the Jeremy Bentham Pub, which I suppose is worth checking out if you're a philosopher, but as far as I could determine, that would be the only reason to do so. The food was bad and the beer was way overpriced.

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